Dr Tim Inglis, a Clinical Microbiology Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) and PathWest/UWA pathologist, has travelled the Gibb River Road from end to end with a mobile molecular pathology lab, small enough to fit into a suitcase. The expedition, which took place last month as part of National Science Week, was aimed at spreading the word on the role of pathology and demonstrating how mobile laboratories can have a dramatic influence on the speedy detection of infectious disease agents in regional areas.
Dr Inglis, who was joined by PathWest scientist Adam Merritt, set up a not-for-profit organisation called Lab Without Walls, which aims to bring new pathology methods into use in remote, rural and regional locations where contemporary medical science is lacking. The pathology crew showcased high-tech field equipment in the battle against mosquito-borne illnesses using the latest in PCR technology and robust, field-portable ‘lab without walls’ equipment.
“Working with the most up-to-date molecular methods, we analysed newly trapped mosquitoes to show how Ross River Virus and Murray Valley Encephalitis can be detected on site, within 24 hours. The general public also saw the lab team working on soil samples to detect the bacteria that cause the tropical infection known as melioidosis,” says Dr Inglis.
The PathWest Medical Microbiologist said the team’s presentation not only demonstrated their unique approach to emerging technology but challenged public perception of the field of pathology. The group travelled along the Gibb River Road, stopping at Broome, Derby and Kununurra along the way.
“Our ‘Lab Without Walls’ showcases how field-led pathology can contribute to regional health service development. Without the use of mobile equipment, mosquitoes are sent back to Perth for testing. The definitive results can take weeks. By running advanced analytical methods in remote places,
Lab Without Walls can demonstrate the potential for enhanced health support in one of our most rapidly growing regions,” says Dr Inglis. “We want to encourage people to consider careers in the clinical sciences by showcasing some of their many facets. People often think of science, and pathology in particular, as being confined to laboratories, when in fact there is much more to ‘mozzie mash and mud pie’ than that,” says Dr Inglis.
While these test techniques have been used for five years or so in a series of pilot projects for the mining industry, the WHO and other organisations, this team are the first in Australia to use this approach in a fully mobile laboratory expedition.
“This is not something we will do all the time, and the findings still have to be authenticated at the main laboratory. However taking molecular biology into the field is a big step forward from techniques we have used in the past,” says Dr Inglis.
(Source: The Royal College of Pathologists of Australia)